India can’t afford to ignore its 35mn youth with disabilities

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NEW DELHI: For young Pratishtha Deveshwar, finding an accessible accommodation to live in with an automated wheelchair has been expensive. She has costs that students without disabilities don’t. Besides, traveling around the city, with cabs that cancel when told she is a wheelchair user is frustrating. But her spirit and family’s support keeps her going.

Pratishtha Deveshwar was one of the inspirational participants at NCPEDP’s National Convention of Youth with Disabilities powered by Accenture.

A total of 100 persons with disabilities, including 65 students attended the conference from top notch institutes like IIT (Kharagpur, Hyderabad, Madras, Roorkee, Guwahati, Delhi); IIM (Bengaluru, Kolkata, Kozhikode, Indore, Ranchi), TISS, NIFT New Delhi, School of Planning & Architecture; Symbiosis Law College Pune, University of Punjab, Aligarh Muslim University, Delhi University, Maulana Azad Medical College, among others, pursuing education in various fields like medicine, engineering, social work, design, architecture, and management.

Javed Abidi, Honorary Director, NCPEDP says – “50% of persons with disabilities are under 25 years of age, in keeping with India’s demographic dividend. At NYCD, we were proud to host some of the brightest young disabled people from the topmost colleges and universities.

They shared their challenges and their aspirations. They are our future.  We are grateful to Accenture for their support. Together, we hope to create a platform for the disabled youth of our country.” 

Youth icons in the disability sector like Ummul Kher, Ankit Jindal, Member, National Committee of Rights of Persons with Disability (NCRPD), Sachin Singh, Instructor, Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre, and Sagar Baheti, the first visually impaired Indian runner to complete historic Boston Marathon spoke at the Convention.

Ankit Jindal reminded the youngsters, “Invest time and effort. Future is yours.”

The inspiring Ummul Kher who had to leave home and support herself since her 8th standard is now studying to be a civil servant. She attended the NCYD for the 2nd time and shared ““When you take a decision, make yourself worthy of that.” Ummul fought not just poverty and deprivation but also a debilitating disease.  She suffers from the fragile bone disease since her infancy and her right leg is shorter than the other.

Accenture’s support for the NYCD was in keeping with their global mandate on inclusion. “We at Accenture want to be the most inclusive and diverse employer by 2020,” said Rohit Thakur, Managing Director at Accenture in India. 

This was music to the ears of the students, who will be looking for sensitive employers, going forward. It is well known that Accenture’s  new joiner orientation process is fully accessible — all videos are subtitled, and sign language interpreters are available as required to assist new joiners with hearing impairment.

The Convention was replete with emotional moments as students shared their stories of discrimination and exclusion at the National Convention of Youth with Disabilities. 

Shivam Kumar now a student of IIT Kharagpur, had polio since he was 6 months old. He remembered the days when he used to walk 2.3 km per day with the help of a bamboo stick, to attend his coaching classes. He thanks his teacher, Mr. Ashok Singh, who took a personal interest and guided him.

Palak Mittal, now a student of IIM Kolkata cleared the computerised CAT despite her low vision.  She says, “ the message which I would like to give to people with low vision and other disabilities is that you need to believe in yourself. There is nothing that a person cannot do. If you know that you have to live with your disability, learn to look for better solutions rather than looking at problems.”

Students present at the conference shared that top colleges and universities must allocate resources to provide necessary facilities to assist persons with disabilities with Braille printers, accessible libraries etc; The professors must be sensitised. Even basics like wheelchair accessibility are not provided as facilities to these students.

Javed Abidi, Honorary Director of NCPEDP summed up, “ We know that despite the quota given by the Government, students with disabilities are not able to make it to colleges and universities across the country. So the students gathered at NYCD are a courageous and resilient lot. Thanks to Accenture, these bright minds felt that they had a supportive ecosystem, a place where they felt welcome.”

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